where the writers are
Staring down the barrel of the thesis, 750 words at a time

Now that this semester (and the first year) of grad school is over, I'm back home enjoying some down time with my partner and our dogs, and catching up with friends.

And working on my thesis.

At the moment, my goal is to finish my degree by next May. The project I'm planning for my thesis is a novel. I wrote a first draft of it back in 2010 and then put it in a drawer, and recently started coming up with an idea for a revision involving some of those characters. It would, however, be an almost completely new novel. So, yeah, knock out a draft by this fall and revise it in time for a May graduation date. Simple, right?

For a while, I tinkered with the idea of working on a collection of short stories for my thesis. This past year I wrote seven short stories in class, not to mention the stories I wrote for submission calls and the other ones that I started because they wouldn't leave me alone. My slush pile has six or so finished stories, and three or four that are in my "working" file that might (I should heavily emphasize that word, "might") be worth salvaging.

But, I really want to finish a draft of this novel. I feel like it's time, and I don't want to let myself off the hook.

Of course, I also have this idea for another novel that would more or less be a sequel to The Unwanted, which is coming out next March. So what I really need is a time turner so that, like Hermione, I can get more work done in the same amount of time. That, or I need a mad man in a blue box to come and give me a lift and find some extra time for me.

But one thing at a time. Between now and the end of August, a novel draft. One thing I learned this spring doing an informal weekly writing group with my friend Sugar is that I write well under deadline, even if that deadline is only 30 or 45 minutes. The thing about a novel (especially on a short deadline) is that I can easily become paralyzed by not knowing where to start when, in fact, starting anywhere is better than not starting at all.

My friend Laurie Ann tipped me off to a website called 750 Words. The idea's simple: write 750 words, every day. It also keeps track of how long it takes you to write that, how many words per minute you type, how many times you're distracted during your writing, and so on. It'll even analyze your writing for things like mood and content. So far I can tell you that my novel is introspective, family-centered, depressing, and on the violent side. And I haven't even killed off any of the characters.

Yet.

On her blog recently, writer Tayari Jones posted a list of goals (mid-year resolutions, if you will) that she wants to accomplish between Memorial Day and Labor Day. I like lists. If I were to make one, it would be:

  1. Finish draft of thesis.
  2. Finish short story for submissions call with September 1 deadline.
  3. Lose another five pounds and get below 180 for the first time in a long time.

So that's what I'm up to. What're you working on this summer?